Policy and News Update for May 15, 2012

In This Issue:
News from Coalition Partners & Others
I. NARA Report Shows Continued Govt-wide Records Mis-Management
II. Partners Applaud Senate Passage of Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act

 

News from Coalition Partners & Others


POGO, Center for Public Integrity, Shine a Light on Pentagon's Whistleblower Failures

On May 5, the Center for Public Integrity's iWatch News revealed the existence of a damning internal assessment of investigations of military reprisals against people who blow the whistle on waste fraud and abuse. The report was obtained as a result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by Project On Government Oversight – POGO. The report accuses officials in the Defense Department’s Office of Inspector General of persistent sloppiness and a systematic disregard for Pentagon rules meant to protect whistleblowers.


ALA, Others, to Discuss Public Access to Research at Brookings Institution: May 16

Register Now to attend the Brooking Institution's May 16 event, "Knowledge and Innovation: Understanding Public Access to Research." The event, which includes a panel appearance by a representative of the American Library Association, will explore public access to taxpayer-funded research, and the role of research publication in innovation.


Partners Write in Support of Free Access to Material Incorporated into Law by Reference

OpenTheGovernment.org joined the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in sending a letter to Cass Sunstein, the Administrator of Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), in support of comments filed by Public.Resources.Org arguing that any material incorporated into an agency's regulations should be made freely available, with no purported copyright restrictions and downloadable on a government agency’s website. Currently, copyrighted material can be "incorporated by reference" into an agency's regulations, meaning the agency refers to the copyrighted standards or criteria, but does not link to them. Once material is incorporated by reference, people must pay often exorbitant fees to access what is essentially the law of the land. Fundamental principles of American democracy dictate that citizens must have free access to the laws which govern them.

I. NARA Report Shows Continued Govt-wide Records Mis-Management

The May 1 release of a report by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), based on surveys agencies filled out about their record keeping practices, shows how much more work needs to be done before we can say with any certainty that the government is not at risk of losing potentially important records.

 

The 2011 Records Management Self-Assessment Report finds, similar to results reported last year, most agencies are at risk of losing or destroying records. If federal employees cannot identify and find records, they cannot be fully responsive to public requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), to discovery in litigation, or to Congressional requests for information. [Learn more about the report and our analysis of the results here.]

 

The report drives home the importance of the Administration's commitment to finally reform the federal government's record keeping practices as part of the National Action Plan. To that end, the President issued a Memorandum on Managing Government Records that requires each agency head to: report on their current plans for improving records management programs; outline current obstacles to sound, cost-effective records management policies; and catalog potential reforms and improvements. The agency reports will inform, and be followed by, a Records Management Directive to be issued by the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Archivist of the United States.

 

OpenTheGovernment.org and several of our coalition partners are monitoring the development of the Directive carefully and have met with government officials to discuss the directions it will take. As Patrice McDermott said on the release on the President's Memorandum, "this document only begins an effort to reform records management policies and practices…[we] will be following its implementation closely to make sure the resources of funds, attention, and personnel are put in place to ensure its success."

II. Partners Applaud Senate Passage of Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act

On May 9 OpenTheGovernment.org joined several coalition partners and other allies in applauding Senate passage of S.743, the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act. The bill would expand protections for federal employees who disclose wrongdoing and protect the public trust. It will modernize the federal whistleblower law, restore and expand free speech rights, and specifically cover national security and intelligence community workers, federal scientists, and Transportation Security Administration officers.

The House companion to The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, HR 3289, was introduced by Representatives Platts and Van Hollen on November 1, 2011 and passed unanimously by the House Oversight and Government Committee two days later. The other House committees with jurisdiction over HR 3298, Intelligence and Homeland Security, have yet to take any action on the bill. Along with our coalition partners POGO, the GAP, the Liberty Coalition, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, we urge House leadership to move swiftly to pass the bill to prove their commitment to tackling waste and increasing accountability to the American taxpayer.

Both chambers of Congress have debated, amended, and passed versions of the bill for more than a decade without ever putting something in front of the President to sign into law. Final passage of the bill seemed imminent during the waning days of the 110th Congress until two Senators placed "secret holds" on the bill. Our coalition partner Government Accountability Project – GAP worked with On the Media in the months following the controversy to unveil the source of the holds.

 

 

 

 

 

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